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How to Launch a Small Group Ministry

launch a small group ministryPlanning to launch a small group ministry but not sure what to do first? In my experience there are four key steps to launching a small group ministry. These steps are not hard, but they do require some thinking and decision making. There are also a couple shortcuts if you don’t have the discipline to take the necessary steps (see below for the shortcuts).

Four steps to launching a small group ministry:

  1. Answer fundamental questions. Before you do anything else, you need to answer some fundamental questions. “What business you will be in?” “Who will be your customer?” and “What will you call success?” are three of a set of very important questions that I believe must be answered first. These answers allow you to begin with the end in mind and help you avoid time consuming and costly backtracking. One of the most common reasons small group ministries fail to get off the ground is a lack of clarity about the answers to these questions. See also, 7 Steps I’d Take If I Was Starting Today.
  2. Determine the end in mind. Only after determining the answers to fundamental questions would it be wise to begin to develop a preferred future for your small group ministry. Developing a preferred future, a well thought out vision for what you want things to look like 10 years from now, can help you see clearly what will need to happen first and 15 to 18 months from now. See also, Start with the End in MindCreating Your “Refined” Preferred Future and Is Your Preferred Future Grand Enough?.
  3. Choose a small group system, model or strategy. Once you’ve determined your preferred future, what you want things to look like 10 years from now, you will be ready to choose a small group system, model or strategy. Once you’ve determined a preferred future, a destination, it becomes easier to decide on a small group system that will take you where you want to go. For example, you may determine that because you need to connect a larger number of people in the first 2 years, you can’t rely on a system that organically develops new leaders every 18 months. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  4. Evaluate after every ministry season. You should be evaluating the effectiveness of your ministry on a regular basis. Not that you would choose a new system after one season, but you should be determining what went right and what went wrong, what was missing or confused after the season is over. Developing the habit of evaluating everything will protect you from getting miles off course or wasting time on a strategy that is ill-suited for your needs. See also, How Are You Evaluating Your Small Group Ministry?

As I mentioned, there are a couple shortcuts to launching. You could hire a coach (someone who could walk you more quickly through the fundamental questions and decisions). Or you could skip the preliminaries and simply run a strategy that will launch a lot of new groups and connect a lot of unconnected people in a wave (i.e., launch a church-wide campaign or a small group connection). See also, 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign and How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.

Image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Don’t Miss this Inspiring New Study: I Like Giving

i like givingA few weeks ago I heard about a small group study that I think you’re going to want to know about. I Like Giving, based on a best-selling book by Brad Formsma, is a powerful four session study that features some of the most memorable video segments I’ve ever seen.

“I Like Giving invites you on a four-session journey, with a bonus fifth-session, to experience the joy of a generous life (from the cover). The study delivers tons of fresh ideas and engaging conversations that will help members understand generosity in ways they’ve never considered before.

The DVD features an amazing collection of short videos that tell powerful short stories of how the joy of a generous life changed the lives of the givers and the receivers. The videos prompt a powerful discussion that leads to fresh eyes understanding of a new way to live.

Every session in the participants guide includes a number of elements. A Check In section allows group members to share experiences from the Live It assignment at the end of the previous session. The Reflection segment guides group members to silently read and reflect on scripture passages that explore the generous life. Multiple Consider segments prompt an engaging conversation about scripture and stories of generosity. The video segments and related stories are interspersed throughout the session and every session ends with a Live It assignment designed to encourage practical first steps. Every session also includes a reading assignment from the book.

I review many studies over the course of an average year. A few of them have what it takes to truly be a transformational experience. I Like Giving is one of the few. I loved this study and I know your members will too. More importantly, I Like Giving is an experience that just might change the way your members live and help them take their first steps into a generous life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thinking Thursday: Candy Chang: Before I die I want to…

candy changIn her New Orleans neighborhood, artist and TED Fellow Candy Chang turned an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard asking a fill-in-the-blank question: “Before I die I want to ___.” Her neighbors’ answers — surprising, poignant, funny — became an unexpected mirror for the community. (What’s your answer?)

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

Add “Small Groups for the Rest of Us” to the Recommended List

small groups for the rest of usI spent some time with a new book from Chris Surratt you are definitely going to want to pick up. Small Groups for the Rest of Us is a great read and is packed with the great insights that only come from a seasoned practitioner accustomed to figuring out how to connect the people you aren’t already connecting and actually make disciples.

There are a number of things to really love about Small Groups for the Rest of Us. First, I love the fact that Chris has been there and done that. He’s a veteran who has wrestled honestly with how to connect the people who aren’t easy to connect. His season as small group pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville provided him with all the hands-on experience needed to keep tweaking the strategy until they began to have the results they were looking for.

Another very important thing to love about the book is that while it is easy to read, every chapter is packed with takeaways you will find very helpful. I’ve had the opportunity to study just about every book on small groups that has been published in the last 20 to 25 years and found some very wise perspectives and unique twists on ideas in Small Groups for the Rest of Us.

While “the book is not designed to be a how-to for doing small groups in your church,” the issues covered here are the ones all small group pastors find themselves trying to figure out. How to connect the people at the fringes, how to find the leaders you need, how to construct a system that truly makes disciples and how to figure out whether you need to just start over are all included. Small Groups for the Rest of Us doesn’t present a ready made template or plug-and-play system. Instead, it wisely walks the reader through the challenges at Cross Point and the thinking behind the strategies they adopted.

Finally, I like the way every chapter concludes with a set of questions that will make this a great book to read and study as a team. If your team is like mine, they’ll also come up with their own questions but this is a very good starter set.

I have a set of books I recommend every small group pastor should read and be familiar with. Small Groups for the Rest of Us is a very good addition to that list. I loved this book and I think you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5 Daily Reminders for Building an Effective Coaching Structure

remindersI learn some things over and over again. And I need a set of reminders that keep me on track. Bet you could use these reminders too.

5 daily reminders when I’m building an effective coaching structure:

  1. Never settle for warm and willing. It takes hot and qualified to build something worth having. We need high capacity men and women who have a passion for groups and making disciples. Settling for warm and willing may give the illusion we have the span of care we want, but it will be an illusion. Better to build our coaching structure with the right people. See also, Skill Training: How to Identify a Potential Small Group Coach.
  2. The coaching role must be the biggest hat they have on. High capacity people are almost always busy people. They will more than likely be leading a group and they may also be serving in other ways at your church (greeters, teaching the 3rd grade boys class at 11:00 am, etc.). We are okay with all of that, but we always insist that the coaching role “be the biggest hat they have on.” If there is ever a conflict, they must commit to taking care of their coaching responsibilities as first priority.
  3. Always start with a no obligation test-drive. When we discover someone we believe has what it takes to be a coach we invite them to “make a 10 to 13 week commitment to take 2 or 3 new life group leaders under their wing and help them get off to a great start.” We make no mention of any commitment (or opportunity) beyond 10 to 13 weeks. “It’s a couple weeks on the front end, the six weeks of the campaign, and a couple weeks on the back end to make sure their new groups have the best chance to continue.” See also, Skill Training: How to Recruit a Potential Small Group Coach.
  4. Make the investment in our coaches we want them to invest in their leaders. If we want the coaches to invest time in their leaders, we need to be investing time in the coaches! If we want the coaches calling their leaders instead of emailing them, then we need to be calling instead of emailing. If we want our coaches to meet their leaders for coffee, we need to meet our coaches for coffee. If we want our coaches to build relationships and make disciples, we need to build relationships with our coaches and make disciples. See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  5. We never compromise when we invite someone to join the coaching team. Not only do they need to be the right kind of men and women, they need to be able to commit to the full responsibilities. We use a job description and thoroughly talk through it before we accept their commitment. You can see our current job description for a coach right here. See also, Skill Training: How to Do an “Exit Interview” with a Launch-Phase Coach.

What do you think? Have an idea to add? Got a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

6 Steps to Building a Leader Development Process (that Meets Your Congregation’s Needs and Expectations)

processI frequently hear from small group pastors that their senior pastors or congregational leaders are uncomfortable with newer strategies for identifying and recruiting leaders.

They’ll tell me things like, “I love hearing about the 75 new leaders that were chosen by group members at your life group connections or the 300+ people who said they had a couple friends they’d like to do the Transformed study with, but my senior pastor would never go for that.”

“I love hearing about the 75 new leaders that were chosen at a life group connection or the 300+ people who said they had a couple friends they’d like to do the Transformed study with, but my senior pastor would never go for that.”

And I get it. In my experience, some senior pastors are keenly aware that traditional methods of leader recruiting haven’t produced new leaders fast enough to keep up with the demand (in order to connect unconnected people in their congregations). Still, their cautions and concerns prevent them from signing off on new strategies that are reportedly are working elsewhere. Genuinely concerned for the safety of their flock, they’ve determined there must be a problem-free solution. And In their pursuit of problem-free, they’re stuck with ineffective.

Does that sound familiar? Is that your story? Or maybe a version of your story?

If that’s your story, I’d like to give you some key steps to building (or proposing) a leader development process that fits your congregation’s needs and expectations.

6 Steps to Building a Leader Development Process

First, develop a clear understanding of the kind of leader you’d like to have. It may not occur to you, but if you want to build a robust system that develops the kind of leaders you long to have…this is where you must start. Only by spending the necessary time to fully understand the leaders of your preferred future will you have any chance of arriving. See also, The Preferred Future for Small Group Leaders.

Second, determine the minimum number of your preferred future small group leaders that you need today (to adequately care for and disciple your average weekend adult attendance in worship). Keep in mind that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. Determining this number (and in most cases recognizing a shortfall) will provide the needed motivation to reconsider your current strategy for identifying, recruiting and developing leaders.

Third, develop a list of additional strategies for identifying new leader candidates. Remember, your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing. If you don’t like the results, you must change the design. There are many ways to discover additional leaders. Put a good team to work developing the list. See also, 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Small Group Leaders.

Fourth, carefully articulate the problems associated with each of the strategies you identify. Be sure you include your current strategy for identifying leaders in the list of strategies you are evaluating. Use a separate flip chart page for each strategy and thoroughly list the problems of each.

Fifth, choose the set(s) of problems you’d rather have. Don’t miss this step. Remember, there are no problem-free strategies. Every strategy comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have. See also, Problem-Free Leader Identification and Recruitment.

Sixth, design a development process that will help new leaders become preferred future leaders. This is a very important step. Don’t miss it. The truth is you will probably not discover an untapped supply of fully qualified leaders who fit your preferred future. You will have to make them. You will have to develop a pathway that will make it easy to begin and nearly automatic to develop in the direction of the preferred future. See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.

What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Ian Sanderson

Don’t Miss Distinct: Living above the Norm

distinctI spent some time with a new study from LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life series this week. Distinct: Living above the Norm is the newest addition to a growing line of studies “on topics that are relevant to today’s believers. Studies that help people understand how to apply the Bible to everyday life — their families, their careers, and their struggles — just as they are, right where they live.”

Working its way through Matthew 5:1-48, Distinct provides a timely look at 6 aspects of Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.

A 6 week DVD-enhanced study, a short video featuring Michael Kelley discussing the primary themes of the session helps set up a good discussion. While it’s a very straightforward video, simply the author setting up the session, the no-frills approach works very well. The study is quite flexible and the video can be shown at the very beginning, after an icebreaker question, or after a quick overview section just before the meat of the study. The video segments average 8 to 10 minutes in length.

The Bible Study book is very easy to use with a well-written set of discussion questions. Each session of the Bible study is made up of three sections: The Bible Meets Life (“an introduction of the section and its connection to everyday life”), What Does the Bible Say (“includes the primary Scripture text along with explanations for key words and ideas within the text”) and Live It Out (this section helps group members apply what they’ve learned). Working their way through the session’s particular passage of scripture, a group will acquire a good understanding of the meaning and implications for their lives.

The Bible Study book also includes a good Leader Guide that provides extra help and coaching to help members “get the most out of the study and ensure a richer experience.” While the study is certainly simple enough that an average leader can facilitate it without the Leader Guide, new leaders and experienced leaders alike will benefit from the guide. The DVD-ROM also includes a commentary section and additional leader helps and tools.

If you’re looking for a study that is easy to use and still takes your group deep into biblical truth and solid application, Distinct: Living above the Norm ought to be on your recommended list. For that matter, the Bible Studies for Life series is a series that is consistently delivering very timely topics in a way that will have your members talking. I like this study and the series and I think you will too.

Thinking Thursday: Amy Tan: Where does creativity hide?

amy tanNovelist Amy Tan digs deep into the creative process, looking for hints of how hers evolved.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

Foundational Teaching: Next Steps for EVERYONE

next steps

An important aspect of my ministry strategy is that there needs to be next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends. This informs an analysis of the menu of available programs, events, classes and studies for every church (noticeable gaps will need to be filled). Another important aspect is my conviction that whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first. See also, Life-Change at the Member Level and How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.

In an effort to cast this vision, I handed out a version of the following at a recent leader development session:


What’s Your Next Step Now?

In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote these words:

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on.”

Like Paul, we each have some distance ahead in our journey as we press on to reach the end of the race. And as important as it is to know we have not yet arrived and have a journey ahead, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

It’s one thing to take a step. It’s another thing entirely to take the right next step. In order to take the right next step you have to know two important things:

  • Where you are going.
  • Where you are.

Where are you going?

 In order to take the right next step, you need to know where you are going. In his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul expressed his hope for them with a phrase that is unmistakable:

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28 (ESV)

“Mature in Christ.” Some translations read “fully mature” and others read “perfect” or “complete.” You get the idea. Where we are going is a long way off for most of us.

Mature in Christ. When Dallas Willard described maturity he said, “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”

How are you doing? Are you effortlessly doing what Jesus would do if He were you?

Where are you now?

Knowing where you are going is important. Knowing where you are is also very important. Taking time on a regular basis to reflect on your spiritual development is an essential habit.

Where are you now? Or put another way, what would need to change for you to effortlessly do what Jesus would do if He were you?


What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Tim Green

Need to Grow as a Small Group Pastor? Join My Coaching Network

coaching network calendarEvery year I block off six days and several hours a week for six months to personally invest in a very limited group of small group pastors.

My Winter/Spring 2016 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network experience is designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century. The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. My coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

Who will be part of the network? Each of my networks are limited to 15 participants and are designed for small group champions who serve in a local church. Because of the nature of the role, champions may be senior pastors, executive pastors, small group pastors and directors, ministers of education, and other key leaders.

What will you receive?

  • Five monthly coaching sessions. Anchored by a 90 minute video conference call, these group session provides focused exposure to the strategies that will build a more powerful platform.  Sessions are scheduled at 11am Pacific on January 14th, February 11th, April 14th, May 12th, and June 9th).
  • Two day gathering in Las Vegas. March 9th: 1pm-5pm followed by dinner | March 10th: 8am-12pm (extend your stay thru March 12th and attend my soon-to-be-announced groups conference).
  • Focused training on key strategic steps including planning with the end in mind, developing an annual grouplife calendar, identifying an unlimited number of new leaders, launching new groups in waves, and impacting your community through groups.
  • Tools, strategies and next steps to be implemented after every session.
  • Access to special password protected network pages with customized content for each session.
  • Scheduled 60 minute one-on-one calls to address questions more specifically, bring team members into the conversation, or help equip your senior pastor or other key staff members.
  • The opportunity to connect with other network participants between sessions
  • Email access to Mark during the six months

What are the expectations?

  • Participate in all six sessions
  • Invest as little as $1050* (*super early bird pricing thru 10/31/15, early bird pricing of $1150 from 11/1-11/30, $1250 after 11/30/15)
  • Cover your own travel expenses to the two day gathering
  • Commit to the reading and exercises between sessions

What’s next? Complete the Coaching Network Application. My Winter/Spring Coaching Network begins on January 14th, 2016. Questions? Contact me.

Image by Jenn Vargas

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